“RESERVATIONS ONLY,” cried the scribbled poster board tacked to the large oak in the parking lot. “NO WALK-INS ALLOWED.” The line of cars stretched for over a mile. On a bright September Sunday during a pandemic, the apple orchard is the hottest place in town.
There is something particularly wholesome about picking apples in the fall: giggling children with the last of their golden summer tans tucked into sweaters and sent to run about an orchard, cheeks ruddy with the first brisk breezes. Parents lift their youngest up so they can delightedly yank their own prizes from the low branches. You’re not supposed to eat the apples while you’re in the orchard, but everyone does anyway. You’ll never see kids voluntarily eating more fruit. The sun-warmed apples only need a quick rub against a blue-jeaned thigh to remove the dust, revealing brilliant red shot through with yellow; the first crack of front teeth snaps through the skin to expose bright white flesh.
The stately lines of apple trees are old and wise, their twisted branches heavy with dusty red fruit. Creaking wooden ladders litter the ground, ready to be set against a sturdy branch, if you can wait until the family of ten taking photos in matching black and red flannels finishes posing with them. Or, forgo the ladder and just climb. The best apples are the ones that you almost fall out of the tree to reach.
After the bags are heavy and everyone has gotten sufficiently muddy, skinned an elbow or two on a branch, and perhaps been stung by a bee feasting on the overripe windfalls, orchard visitors inevitably wander over to the farm stand. This brilliant invention allows the orchard to make staggering amounts of profit on one simple item—the apple cider donut.
Is there any seasonal treat more appealing? An apple cider donut must always be served warm, so the sugar melts on the tongue, and the sweet apple cinnamon-scented dough collapses into soft crumbles upon the first bite. They’re liberally coated in crunchy cinnamon sugar, to children’s delight and mothers’ dismay, as the grains inevitably establish a presence on cheeks, under fingernails, and occasionally in shoes. After everyone has eaten their fill and an extra dozen has been placed in a paper bag for the road, sticky hands climb back into the car.
Finally, you arrive home, where you open the trunk of the car to find that your charming little bags of apples, so carelessly pulled from the trees, seem to have multiplied several times over. Were the bags always this size? Did we really have to fill them up to the top? What are we going to do with 30 pounds of apples? A pie will use up seven or eight, that’s good, and a couple dozen apple muffins will get rid of four more. Maybe the neighbors will take some, and everyone’s lunchbox will have an apple nestled in the corner for weeks. Is this the year we make applesauce? For the next month, the pile of apples will sit in the corner of the kitchen, dwindling just a little too slowly, filling the air with the sour-sweet smell of the last days of fall.
Cover photo courtesy of Getty Images.